NASA Declares SLS Megarocket Tank Test Successful

NASA Declares SLS Megarocket Tank Test Successful
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Engineers repairing the area where a liquid hydrogen leak was detected during the second SLS launch attempt on September 3.  This photo was taken on September 8 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Engineers repairing the area where a liquid hydrogen leak was detected during the second SLS launch attempt on September 3. This photo was taken on September 8 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Photo: POT

A demonstration to confirm a repaired hydrogen leak appears to have gone well, with NASA declaring Wednesday’s cryogenic tank test a success. Engineers have yet to review the results, but the space agency could be on track for its third launch attempt of its SLS megarocket in just six days, a mission that would officially kick off the Artemis lunar program.

Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said the tank was ready by 7:30 am ET, about 30 minutes after its scheduled start time. Ground crews began the process of loading more than 700,000 gallons of propellant into the mega rocket, beginning with the core stage. Today’s cryogenic tank test, as it was called, occurred when the 98-meter (321-foot) tall rocket was sitting on launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The test follows two previous launch attempts, both of which ended in bushes for different reasons. the first washon August 29, was the result of a Faulty sensor that registered erroneous engine temperature readingswhile the second scrub, on September 3, was the result of a significant hydrogen leak, which NASA later traced to damaged seals in the quick-disconnect fitting between a liquid hydrogen fuel line and the core stage. SLS uses a mixture of oxygen and liquid hydrogen, the latter of which has a leak propensity due to its small atomic stature.

Unwilling to attempt a third launch attempt just yet, NASA officials decided to conduct a cryogenic tank test, the main purpose of which was to “observe the two new seals,” as Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, said. common. at NASA, he told reporters Monday. NASA officials refrained from calling today’s test a dress rehearsal, as key test objectives such as entering the terminal phase of the countdown and powering the Orion spacecraft were not included on Wednesday. and the lateral impellers.test

For today’s test, a key strategy was for ground teams to employ a “kinder, more gentle” approach to tanking. Engineers felt that a slower approach would reduce the chance of thermal shock, as components come into contact with ultracold propellants at room temperature.temperatures reaching -423 degrees Fahrenheit (-217 degrees Celsius). Thermal shock, or inadvertent overpressurization, may have caused the hydrogen leak on September 3, but the real cause of the failing 8-inch seal, which exhibited a possible indentation mark less than 0.01 inch in size, not yet known. known.

Around 9:45 a.m., ground crews transitioned from slow fill to fast fill. An hour later, crews reported a hydrogen leak at the quick disconnect between the rocket and the tail service mast umbilical, in what was an ominous sign. Blackwell-Thompson signed off on the subsequent plan to heat the line and restore the connection point, and crews returned to work about an hour later. Speaking to Blackwell-Thompson after the test, NASA launch commentator Derrol Nail said: “You might feel the room deflate a little bit, but as [the ground teams] overcome, a certain lifting of the room could be felt.”

The tank moved quickly and smoothly after that, with the completion of thermal conditioning of the rocket. four RS-25 engines occurring shortly before 1:00 p.m. The teams managed to completely fill the core stage and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), also known as the upper stage, with propellants. By 3:45 p.m., launch controllers had completed the pre-pressurization test, and tank removal activities began shortly thereafter. “All objectives of the Artemis 1 cryogenic demonstration have been met,” tweeted NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems at 4:33 p.m., with the test declared complete 20 minutes later.

“I think the test went really well,” Blackwell-Thompson told Nail. “We wanted to learn, we wanted to evaluate the [tail service mast umbilicals] under cryogenic conditions. She said teams were also working on a new loading operation, the so-called kinder and gentler approach, which Blackwell-Thompson described as “very helpful”. Ultimately, “all test goals were achieved today,” she said.

NASA will need to review today’s test results and decide how to move forward. Ideally, the engineers will like what they saw, setting the stage for launch in just six days. Assuming the test is as successful as it seems, NASA could release SLS as soon as September 27, with a 70-minute launch window opening at 11:37 a.m. ET. For that to happen, however, the space agency still needs to receive a waiver from the Space Force’s Eastern Range, which manages launches along Florida’s east coast. NASA is currently trying to launch the Artemis 1 missionin which the SLS rocket will deliver an uncrewed Orion capsule on a trip to the Moon and back.

A successful launch would be the beginning of the Age of Artemis, in which NASA seeks a sustainable and sustained presence in the lunar environment. Artemis 1 is a demonstration mission that would set the stage for Artemis 2, in which a manned Orion spacecraft will attempt a similar journey in late 2024.

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